The EduJargon term “deeper learning” is associated with several educationally positive laundry lists; 21stCentury Skills and the 4, 5, or 6 C's. These lists were developed from a combination of surveying leaders in the modern workplace about what is actually important for success and observations about what kinds of experiences appear to be well-suited to developing those competencies, qualities, and characteristics in students through schooling. The Hewlett Foundation has awarded over $27 million in grants to further study what constitutes deeper learning in the schools that claim to be teaching it and to get the word out about how to make it happen in schools more broadly.
In my writings on the topic of deeper learning you will notice that I only rarely mention those laundry lists and the other work that is usually associated with the term. This is because my primary interest as an educational psychologist is the scientific challenge of figuring out causal mechanisms. If my work is worth the paper it is written on (or the bits that encode it) then it will be entirely consistent with their observations, but digging into causality is, by definition, based on explaining observations, not just making them. For practitioners, those laundry lists are probably a good starting point, but for me they are an ending point. I will have done my job if the theory I propose explains the observations in the field. Once a good theory is in place then it can help educators better figure out how to improve their schools and practices with less wasted time and effort.
When I share my work there are a variety of other terms and famous names in the field of education that are frequently brought up which are listed at the bottom of this post. Here's a bold claim: My deeper learning theory will explain or productively expand on ALL of those terms and models.
The reason for this extraordinary scope in the field is simply that I am focused on a key area of the psychology of learning, which transcends and includes all those terms and models because learning is central to all of them. Specifically, I focus on the roles of motivation and engagement. This fact means that I am concerned about issues that touch on the most fundamental features of the humanity of teachers and students. My topic is human nature. But don't run away screaming just because of that “philosophical” term and its potential for controversy. The science I am referring to has only scratched the surface of human nature. But that scratch is right at the foundation of the most basic elements of human nature.
The foundation of human nature is primary human needs. There are five primary human needs that you are undoubtedly familiar with: air, water, food, shelter, and sleep. It is the fundamental nature of being human to breath air, drink water, eat food, seek shelter from environmental extremes, and to sleep. Without the first four you die. Without the fifth you show signs of psychological distress such as becoming anxious and/or depressed. Under psychological distress you become less able to be your true self. “Primary” indicates that other things sometimes called “needs” are derived from these. You will probably have heard of Maslow's “Hierarchy of Needs.” His model is wrong about the hierarchy and several of the “needs” he proposed are derivative, not primary. You can read more about how needs actually work and how Maslow got it wrong in my book More Joy, More Genius.
One of the key points of my work is acquainting people like you with the three primary psychological needs that are less familiar, but just as important as the familiar five above. Those three are the needs for relatedness, competence, and autonomy. Their opposites are isolation or exclusion, incompetence, and sensing that you are being controlled by someone or something besides yourself. All those EduJargon terms and school models were originally derived from observations of how students and/or teachers were striving to satisfy their primary human needs, even though the observers didn't realize it at the time.
Another key point of my work is to help people like you understand and act effectively to manage the complex systems that shape our schools. There is some value in getting principals and teachers to do the behaviors that better support the primary psychological needs of their teachers and students in classrooms, but those behaviors will not become sustainable organizational practices unless there is policy in place to protect them. There must have been institutional habits that prevented those behaviors from happening previously and may erode their perceived value currently, so mitigating the effects of those habits is crucial to long term success. Explaining that point and providing some basic tools for working on it is why I wrote the book More Joy More Genius. The video series Back to Basics 2.0 gives a brief overview of some key points, as well.
- 21stCentury Skills
- The 4, 5, or 6 C's of Deeper Learning
- Professional Learning Communities (PLC)
- Competency-/ Mastery-based Assessment
- Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)
- Project-Based Learning (PBL)
- Trauma-Informed Practice
- Self-Directed Education
- Personalized Learning
- Progressive Education
- Experiential Learning
- Character Education
- Democratic Schools
- Montessori Schools
- Wholistic Schools
- Waldorf Schools
- Growth Mindset
- Active Learning
- Whole Child